Voice of Experience: Joanna Cound, Managing Director, Government Affairs and Public Policy, BlackRock

joannacoundBy Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)

According to Joanna Cound, Managing Director of Government affairs and Public Policy at BlackRock, a critical career juncture for women is the move from director level to managing director.

“I made MD in 1994, before there were a lot of [women’s leadership] programs in place. It’s amazing how robust the program that BlackRock has set up is,” she said. BlackRock Women’s Initiative Network (“WIN”) was launched in April 2010 and currently has seven regional chapters with over 1,800 members. She advised that women begin to build a supportive network early, to help navigate and seek mentorship throughout their career.

“Networks are hugely important to your career,” she said. “Women know this but often neglect networking for more immediate priorities. Seeking guidance from senior executives, both from mentors and more informally from colleagues, is also critical. They say ‘feedback is the food of kings’ and it’s true. Ask for feedback and act on it.”

Building a Better Europe

Cound said that from a young age, she and her siblings were encouraged by her father to learn a variety of languages, and spend time traveling and working outside the country.

“His basic mantra was that everyone is the same – we have to learn to trust and communicate with one another,” she recalled. As a result, she developed a passion for European history and languages, and pursued European studies at University.

She explained, “I wanted to combine political science, economics, French, German, and history. I very much wanted to learn about people.”

For her post-graduate work, Cound attended the College of Europe, and worked for the European Commission and European Parliament from 1985 until 1988, at which point she left to earn her MBA at London Business School. After graduating, she said, “I wanted to work in European financial services, where I could control a budget, and where I could manage people.”

“I ended up at Citibank in Germany,” she said. “And then worked in Belgium, the UK, France, and Spain.” After her time at Citi, Cound moved to a strategic consultancy and then to an asset management role at Fidelity, where she worked in product strategy.

Next, she took a role at Mercury Asset Management which within her first year was bought by Merrill Lynch Investment Managers (MLIM). MLIM later merged with BlackRock in 2006. During her tenure at BlackRock, Cound worked in a variety of functions – marketing, business development, business strategy and sales management – across both the retail and institutional channels. Before moving to government affairs, she was COO of BlackRock’s International Cash Management Business.

“And now I’ve come full swing,” she said. “Instead of working in the European institutions, I’m trying to help them appreciate the impact of legislation on the end investor and to avoid any unintended consequences.”

She continued, “I’m really proud of a lot of the work we’re achieving in government affairs in Europe and globally. But I’m most proud of developing teams that work and collaborate well with others across the business.”

Cound explained, “I love that I can utilize nearly two decades of experience of asset management when engaging with policy makers on behalf of our clients. We see government affairs as an extension of our fiduciary duty to the client by representing their voice to regulators. Few firms have the resources to do that on the asset management side.”

“I like that we’re making a difference for our clients,” she added. “I feel passionate about that.

Cound said she is concerned about how the economic crisis and unintended effects of new regulations might impact the firm’s clients.

“Given that we just experienced a liquidity crisis and the state of the economic outlook, how do we get ourselves in a position where people retiring have enough income?” she asked.

She continued, “How will we be able to deliver the best investment performance for investors – given some of the regulatory restraints?”

Advice for Women in the Industry

“I wish I had known how important emotional intelligence was right from the beginning. If you come from a fairly academic background – and I do – you tend to think that if you work hard and produce really good work, that’s enough,” Cound said.

But, she explained, that’s only one part of a successful career.

“You need to remember the Yellow Brick Road,” she continued. “The Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion – you need to have heart and courage in addition to brains. You need all three together.”

She added, “Always be brave. Women don’t always put their hands up and speak out. But I do think that the women coming in, the younger generation, are much braver than we were twenty years ago.”

She added, “I would also stress the importance of looking for the right boss, and looking for a mentor. There’s nothing to stop you from just going to ask someone to mentor you. I’ve done that.”

Additionally, she said, managing work and family in a dual career household can be demanding. “How do two people who are equally interested in looking after their children and managing their career make it work? Usually one takes the lead in each area – but for both people to be focused on both, can prove to be challenging.”

She added, “I have two children, and I think the biggest challenge was going from one to two. We have to work hard to make sure we have a strong support network in place for our children.”

In Her Personal Time

“I try to devote weekends to my family. With two children under ten, I spend a lot of time playing sports, climbing trees, going to the cinema, museums and the odd gallery. My husband also very wisely imposed a rule that we spend one evening a week together outside the home away from work and kids.”

“We want to be sure our children are exposed to different cultures,” Cound said. “In addition to a home in Spain, we regularly take our children to visit family and friends in France, Germany, and Ireland.”

“We want to be sure they are open to different ways of doing things,” she explained.